Saturday, December 12, 2015

Psst, Santa: This is what geeks would like for Christmas

Dear Santa,

I realize I am a bit old to be writing to you but I thought perhaps you would like a few suggestions on what to give self-professed geeks like me. Apparently, we are not easy to shop for.

Not everything we covet is expensive. For example, Google Cardboards begin at $5. They are cardboard headsets – much like the old View Masters – that hold your phone. It lets you watch 360-degree videos. Youtube even has a special section for the videos so they are easy to find. Cardboard lets you experience something close to Virtual Reality for just a few dollars if you already have a smartphone.

Where it can get expensive is if you want to begin making your own videos or have 360-degree photos. Ricoh makes the Theta S, a small camera that does just that. It cost about $350.

If your records show anyone coming close to being naughty for cursing about the phone battery giving out too soon, you may want to consider giving them a spare battery and charger for their Android phone, if it has a removable battery.

For iPhones and those Android phones without removable batteries, consider a portable battery charger. The checkout lines at pharmacies have little ones for $20, but they only charge the phone once before they have to be charged. Bigger – 15,000 to 20,000 mah – ones can be had for $30-$40. They can charge a phone six times or so before needing recharged themselves.

Amazon makes a clever little device, the Echo, which brings Star Trek-like conversations to our lives.

These $149 devices sit in your home and listen for you to say “Hey Alexa.”

“Hey Alexa, set a timer for 10 minutes.” Or you can ask it about the weather, to read you the news, to reorder paper plates from Amazon or a host of things. I’ve used one and it works really well. Home chefs love it for the timer aspect, as you can have it set multiple timers all by the command of your voice.

If you have an automatic automobile diagnostic device, it can interface with the Echo. You can say “Hey Alexa, how much gas is in my car?” and the Echo device will tell you.

The automatic and devices of its ilk work with most cars since ‘96 models, talk to an app on your phone and tell you the reasons behind your check-engine light, tell you the mileage you are getting, how fast you’ve gone as well as other useful data about your driving. Teen drivers beware. You do not have to have an Echo to take advantage of it.

Amazon also has a $50 7-inch tablet this Christmas. It’s no iPad or high-end Android tablet, but it is good enough for reading books, watching movies, Facebooking and playing games. And at that price, it is something you could give your kids with less fear should they lose or destroy it.

It doesn’t come with Google Apps or Google Play store, but if you search the web, you will find ways to load those on this tablet.

I know drones are an invasion of privacy and dangerous if they drop out of the sky or interfere with an airplane, but dang, they look like a lot of fun.

I do not know much about them, but I’d want one with a camera. There are ones for thousands of dollars, but there are cheaper ones for about $60. Maybe as a gift, you should give ones without a camera that cost less than $50. These are good to learn to fly without risking big bucks for when you inevitably crash.

Of course, schlepping around these cameras, extra batteries and tablets can get tiresome. Consider gifting a small shoulder bag for men. My wife calls them a “murse” – man purse – but I‘d rather carry a “murse” then have a dead phone.

Keeping a multitude of cables and small do-dads in the bag is a challenge. Grid-It organizers help. They are small boards with elastic straps on them. I have had a small 5x7 inch one for a while now.

The biggest problem I have in normal use is that items work their way out from under the elastic and drop free in the bag. That’s a hassle. Grid-It now has Grid-It Wrap cases. They are Grid-It boards inside a cover. The covers often hold a tablet too. It should keep items together, and organized.

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